The Politics of Exclusion

Over at The Politics of Scrabble, Scott Payne has some interesting ruminations on Bob Barr and the presidential debates (emphasis mine):

Insofar as elections are opportunities for a national discourse, it stands to reason that we would want that discourse to be as representative and searching as possible. This does not mean that we are obliged to open the flood gates and let ever shmo who can open their yapper into such an important event, but those who represent legitimate perspectives that have viable options for pressing challenges ought to be given the opportunity to speak. Had Canadians not pressed this point, I would likely still be very much in the dark as regards May.

The question becomes: how do we determine who represents a valid perspective? That question, I believe, is a qualitative one, not quantitative. Saying that this or that candidate has “X” percent if support in national polls is essentially an arbitrary determination. It’s not unhelpful, but I don’t think it gets to the meat of the matter. What I believe we’re really looking for, though, is the quality of thought that has gone into those candidates’/parties’ positions: do they represent a bona fide worldview, is that worldview comprehensive as regards the office being sought, is there a constructive and contributory element to what is being representative, or is it wholly reactionary, and, perhaps somewhat controversially, is there a genuine intellectual under-girding to the proposals offered? On all of these counts, I think Barr and libertarians pass the threshold, whereas, Nader, to my mind, does not.

The issue of presidential debates is an interesting one, and while I’m deeply sympathetic to political inclusion, I’m not sure that a debate commission should determine the merits of each third party candidacy. Chuck Baldwin of the Constitution Party, for example, espouses a coherent political philosophy. His worldview is well outside the political mainstream, but then again, so is Bob Barr’s. Baldwin has also been endorsed by Ron Paul, one of the few fringe candidates who achieved real political visibility this election cycle.

Nader is frequently accused of political narcissism, and having heard the man speak I find this viewpoint entirely plausible. That said, I think it would be wrong for a debate commission to exclude him based on the perception of insincerity. His views represent a readily-identifiable strain of left-wing progressivism, one that has had an important impact on the United States’ political development (as a consumer rights advocate, no one did more than Nader to shift the language of public consumption).

In other words, I think that every prominent third party candidate meets Payne’s criteria for inclusion. If you let them all in, the debate commission will undoubtedly be accused of wasting the public’s time. If you only let one or two third party candidates participate, there’s no compelling reason to exclude their counterparts from the other side of the political spectrum.

Holding candidates to a minimal standard of public support remains the least controversial way of determining participation in the presidential debates. If libertarians can’t reach a certain popularity threshold, maybe we need to do a better job of choosing our political leadership.



Filed under Libertarianism, Participatory Democracy, Presidential Politics, The Media

2 responses to “The Politics of Exclusion

  1. Alex

    If libertarians can’t reach a certain popularity threshold perhaps it’s because they (and any other third party members) are for the most part unilaterally ignored by the media. Popular TV news outlets don’t readily run headlines around the fringe candidates, and neither do mainstream newspapers– you’re not going to find Barr or Paul in the A pages of the New York Times. This is where average Americans first hear of the presidential candidates, and if they don’t hear anything about third party candidates I would assume they’d be disinclined to go hunting for that information when other information on more mainstream runners is so readily available.

    I’m not blaming the media for third-party dis-popularity. But I think that if, by the end of the election season, you don’t know (currently) McCain and Obama’s respective life stories, if you haven’t heard dissections of their policies from “the experts,” then you’ve been holed up in a cave somewhere for the past year. For this reason I don’t think the debate commission would be wasting the public’s time by including third party candidates. For the most part, with the possible exception of the most recent debate, the debates HAVE been a colossal waste of time– citizens might benefit more from them if third party candidates were invited.

  2. The comment above me has it right — should they have included third party candidates to the debate mix, it would have yielded different views — one of which might just sway voters that way.

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